National Health Laboratory Service Hit by Cyberattack, Forced to Shuts Down IT Systems

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By Samkele Mchunu

The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), South Africa’s leading diagnostic service for public healthcare, has shut down its IT systems following a cyberattack over the weekend. The attack compromised the NHLS’s IT infrastructure, taking emails, the website, and the system for storing and retrieving patients’ lab test results offline.

Possible Ransomware Attack

While the full extent of the attack is still under investigation, a memo from NHLS CEO Prof Koleka Mlisana suggests it could be a ransomware attack or a similarly destructive intrusion. Ransomware attacks typically encrypt a victim’s data and demand a ransom for decryption. Attackers may also steal sensitive information and threaten to leak it online if their demands are not met.

NHLS Takes Action

The NHLS has deployed its Incident Response Team to determine the scope of the breach and implement safeguards. Fortunately, their critical Oracle environment and Trakcare database remain unaffected. However, the entire system is shut down as a precaution to prevent further damage.

Patient Care Remains Priority

Mlisana emphasized that data security is their top priority. The NHLS is committed to resolving the issue swiftly and transparently, providing regular updates as the situation unfolds.

In response to the attack, the NHLS has implemented its Downtime Protocol to prioritize critical operations. This includes prioritizing patient samples and processing urgent test results, with results communicated directly to clinicians and manually distributed when necessary.

The National Department of Health is aware of the incident and is working collaboratively with the NHLS to address the issue.

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